Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 129.

REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada

I prove it thirdly: The Church in communion with the see of Rome, was the true Church of Christ when St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans; whom he styles " the beloved of God, called to be saints and gives God thanks, " for that their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world;" Rom. i. 7, 8; which he would not have done, had it been tainted with any error. Now, as the see of Rome was then free from error, so it is manifest, that the whole Christian Church in communion with her, was likewise untainted: because St. Paul says, that "their faith was spoken of," that is preached " throughout the whole world." The consequence whereof, is, that the true Church of Christ was then only visible in that society of Christians, which was united in faith and communion with her supreme pastor, the bishop of Rome, who at that time was * St. Peter. For St. Paul had never been at Rome when he wrote that epistle; as appears from his own words ; Rom. i. 13, and xv. 22.

Hence, I argue thus. The Church in communion with the see of Rome, was once the true Church, and is owned by most Protestants: I may say all, and to have continued so for some ages. Therefore, unless it can be made out with demonstrative evidence, that she has since forfeited her title, she must still be acknowledged the same true Church, to which all the promises of infallibility were made. I say, unless it be made out with demonstrative evidence, because nothing but demonstrative and incontestable evidence can be of any weight against a Church, that ever was in possession of the truth.

This was St. Austin's argument both against the Manichees and Donatists, who would needs reform their mother-Church. But this great champion of the Catholic faith required nothing less of them than incontestable evidence for a sufficient conviction of the Church's being in an error. The Manichees labored all they could to make him once more their proselyte. But to satisfy them that he had embraced the Catholic faith, and continued in it upon solid grounds, he wrote thus to them: "Not to speak of the wisdom, which you do not believe is in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her communion.

1. The agreement of people and nations hold me.

2. Authority began with miracles, nourished with hope, increased with charity, confirmed by antiquity holds me.

3. A succession of bishops descending from the see of St. Peter, to whom Christ after his resurrection committed his flock to the present episcopacy, holds me.

4. Lastly, the very name of Catholic holds me; of which this Church alone has, not without reason, so kept the possession, that though all heretics desire to be called Catholics, yet, if a stranger asks them, where Catholics meet, none of the heretics dares point out his own house, or his own Church. These, then, so many and such sacred ties of the Christian name, justly keep a man steadfast in believing the Catholic Church. But there is nothing of all this amongst you to invite, or hold me. You promise truth indeed, and make a great noise about it: and if you can make it appear with such an incontestable evidence, that no man can doubt of it, all the motives that hold me in the Catholic Church, must yield to it. Contra Epist. Fund. c. 4.

Here we see what St. Austin demanded of the Manichees to prove anything against the Catholic Church; which in his time was undoubtedly the Church in communion with the see of Rome; because one of the motives that kept him in it, was the succession of bishops descending from the see of St. Peter to him, who was then bishop of Rome, when he wrote his book against the Manichees. Besides, St. Austin was himself a massing bishop, believed there was a purgatory, prayed for his mother's soul, implored the prayers of the saints in heaven, had a great veneration for their relics, and believed that God wrought miracles by them; whereof, he has left several authentic proofs in his writings. Nay, he certainly believed the supremacy of St. Peter, and his successors ; for why should he else mention the succession of bishops from St. Peter's see, rather than any other, as a motive that held him in the Catholic Church ? All which show plainly, both that St. Austin was a staunch Papist, and that the faith of the Catholic Church in his time, which is now about thirteen hundred years ago, was downright Popery. And, indeed, it is no small comfort for Roman Catholics, that when they are now questioned about their religion, they can answer for themselves word for word, what St. Austin says to the Manichees, which no member of any reformed Church can do without talking nonsense.

But as he demanded unquestionable evidence of the Manichees, so he required the same of the Donatists concerning the re-baptism of persons baptized by heretics. Because the Church being in possession of a constant practice of not re-baptizing them, he thought nothing less sufficient to impeach this practice than a positive declaration in Scripture, that persons baptized by heretics, were to be re-baptized in the Catholic Church. His words are these: Lib. de Unit. Eccl. c. 24. " Show," says he, " that the canonical Scriptures have openly declared, that he, who has been baptized among heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is to be baptized in the Catholic Church. . . . We demand of you some clear evidence, which needs no interpreter." A liquid manifestum, quod interprete non egeat, a vobis flagitamus.

* St. Peter came to Rome in the second year of the Emperor Claudius, anno Christi 42. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, anno 57.